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Published: Friday, 9/15/2006

Image of victory

ONE of the most enduring images of modern American history is the picture taken as victorious U.S. military personnel raised the Stars and Stripes at the summit of Mt. Suribachi on the battle-torn island of Iwo Jima in February, 1945, near the end of World War II.

The picture is back in the news with the recent death of the photographer, Joe Rosenthal, 94, who captured the stirring moment while working for the Associated Press in the Pacific war theater.

The photo showed six servicemen - five Marines and a Navy corpsman - straining against a stiff breeze to plant the flag on an iron-pipe pole atop the 556-foot hill.

The dramatic image, printed in nearly every newspaper across the country, rallied a war-weary public on the home front. The battle for Iwo Jima, just 750 miles from Tokyo, prefaced the end of the war against Japan six months later, but at the time the outcome was still in doubt.

Ironically, Mr. Rosenthal spent many years defending himself against claims that he had contrived the photograph. He explained that he had indeed organized a later "gung ho" shot, with the servicemen gathered around the flag, faces toward the camera.

Some confusion lingered because the outsized flag in the picture - measuring 8 feet by 4 1/2 feet - had been put up so it could be seen across the entire island. It replaced a much smaller flag that was hoisted immediately after troops gained control of the hill.

The flag was a symbol of victory, but one that came at enormous human cost. More than 6,800 servicemen - including one-third of all Marines killed in World War II - died securing Iwo Jima.

Americans alive today still owe a debt of gratitude to those who perished, and to Joe Rosenthal for capturing the decisive moment.

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